Slouching Towards Europe: Obama’s Domestic Agenda Undercuts American Exceptionalism

obama-flagI’ve been pleasantly surprised by President Obama’s steadfastness regarding national security issues.  After winning his party’s nomination by promising to surrender in Iraq more quickly than the other Democrats would, Obama has:

  • retained his predecessor’s defense secretary;
  • adopted his predecessor’s timetable for responsible disengagement in Iraq;
  • supported his own rhetoric about the importance of Afghanistan by sending more troops; and
  • continued, as recently as Saturday, his predecessor’s policy of pilotless drone missile strikes at Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan.

Credit where credit is due: Thank you, President Obama.

But in the long run, America’s national security depends as much on our economy as it does on our military prowess. And on that score, my Obama-inspired surprises have been less pleasant.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sums it up:

I believe President Obama has proposed the most significant shift toward collectivism and away from capitalism in the history of our republic. I believe his budget aspires to not merely promote economic recovery but to lay the groundwork for sweeping expansions of government authority in areas like health care, energy and even daily commerce. If handled poorly, I’m concerned this budget could turn our government into the world’s largest health care provider, mortgage bank or car dealership, among other things.

In short, the goal seems to be to make America more like Europe.  And while there is much to admire in Europe’s history, to emulate the Europe of today is to risk compromising the self-sufficiency and sense of personal empowerment that have made America the strongest country in the world, both militarily and economically.  Charles Murray:

If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: “Community” can embrace people who are scattered geographically. “Vocation” can include avocations or causes. …

Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that’s what’s wrong with the European model. It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them. …

The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality–it drains some of the life from them. It’s inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met–family and community really do have the action–then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.

Murray’s lengthy speech is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s another key excerpt:

American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I’m thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. That’s quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America–by and large, Americans celebrate others’ success instead of resenting it. That’s just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism–the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close. …

The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.

Some level of increased government intervention is necessary to avoid catastrophic damage to the global economy.  But the Obama administration, having decided not to let a good crisis go to waste, has set off on a course that will vastly increase the scope of government power.  This needs to be resisted.

Abortion Should Be Safe And Legal — But It Stops A Beating Heart

The abortion issue lends itself to extremism.  The only logically consistent positions are at the extremes.

The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale

The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale

The pro-life extreme can be summed up in three words: “Abortion is murder.”  The pro-choice extreme is more complicated.  The mainstream pro-choice movement’s rallying cry of “keep abortion safe and legal” doesn’t come close to being extreme.  Something can be safe and legal and yet still be morally ambiguous.

Activist Florynce Kennedy came closer to a pithy expression of pro-choice extremism when she said “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”  But the line has a chuckle-inducing quality that keeps it from being nearly as powerful as “abortion is murder.”  Besides, she’s not actually saying that abortion IS a sacrament — she’s making a hypothetical statement that may, I think, have some validity.

Here’s how I’ve always articulated what I think of as the extremist pro-choice position: “A woman’s right to an abortion trumps all other considerations.”  A pithier version: “Abortion rights are absolute.”

The overwhelming majority of Americans come down between the two extremes.  Personally, I think Bill Clinton had it just about right when he said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”  But that formulation is deliberately imprecise — it can’t serve as a clear roadmap to legislation.  Bill Clinton supported laws requiring parental consent and a 24-hour waiting period.  Other generally pro-choice people would draw the lines in  different places, but most would still draw lines.

Here are two clear roadmaps, each of them logical and internally consistent:

  1. Abortion is murder.
  2. A woman’s right to abortion trumps all other considerations.

Although there are people who advocate one direction or the other, for most of us those maps take us places where we do not want to go.  If abortion truly is murder, then yes, a woman should be forced to bear her rapist’s baby, even in the case of incest.  If abortion rights are absolute, then third-trimester abortions for gender-selection purposes cannot be ruled out.  I reject both of those positions, and I am grateful that I am not, myself, empowered to decide where the lines should be drawn.

These thoughts are all occasioned by reports that the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, the newly named dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, apparently has insisted from the pulpit that “abortion is a blessing, and our work is not done.”  She also stated that abortion providers and pro-choice activists are “engaged in holy work.”

Hat tip to a force of nature

Hat tip to a force of nature

I learned of this from reading the blog of the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, an Episcopal priest from a nearby township in New Jersey.  This post actually started its life as an extended comment on her blog.  I’ve jousted with Mother Kaeton in her comments in the past, and I realized this time that it made more sense to lay out my thoughts on my own site.

Before today I had never heard of the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, and I have no opinion about whether she is a good choice for Dean of EDS. She doesn’t look like an extremist in the photo above from the EDS website, and I won’t pin that label on her.

But I’ll pin it on that particular sermon.  Her insistence that “abortion is a blessing” is, I think clearly, well outside the mainstream, even among supporters of abortion rights.  I think Dean Ragsdale does the pro-choice cause no benefit by making that proclamation, and I’m glad she has removed it from her website.

Dean Ragsdale was villified by a ham-handed conservative blog as “a lying baby-murdering witch” (I’ve inserted the essential hyphen), which was what set Mother Kaeton off on what she herself described as a rant.  The anonymous ham-handed blogger does the pro-life cause no benefit either.

This is not to imply moral equivalence.  The anonymous blogger’s headline is disgraceful, and arguably an incitement to violence against a single individual.  Dean Ragsdale’s sermon is merely wrong-headed, and contemptuously dismissive of the views of, I believe, the vast majority of Americans.

People are complicated.  I voted for McCain and I market this blog as the ruminations of a “red voter in a blue state.” But I’m not a social conservative, and I join Mother Kaeton in standing proudly to the left of President Obama on the issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Issues also are complicated, and reasonable people can differ.  In the case of abortion, far too often the battle lines are drawn by unreasonable people.  Most of us prefer a middle way.

Oliphant Takes Dehumanization of Jews into the Mainstream

Clifford May of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies weighs in on the Oliphant cartoon:

Let’s not call the political cartoonist Pat Oliphant an anti-Semite or even an Israel-basher. Let’s just be clear about what he is doing: encouraging those whose intentions are genocidal. …

The symbolism here is unoriginal. Dehumanizing Jews in cartoons is a tradition that dates back at least to Germany in the 1930s and has been maintained in the Arab press ever since. Nor is it novel to equate 21st-century Jews with their 20th-century executioners. But until now, such images have rarely, if ever, been so legitimized in the mainstream media. A corner has been turned.

Read the whole thing.